White House press secretary Jen Psaki refused to say Sunday whether the president still views New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the “gold standard” on pandemic leadership as the Biden administration comes under pressure to address the nursing-home scandal.
Pressed to give a yes-or-no answer, Ms. Psaki said, “The president—well, it doesn’t always have to be a yes-or-no answer.”
“I think the president is focused on his goals, his objectives as president of the United States,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” “He’s going to continue to work with Gov. Cuomo, just like he’ll continue to work with governors across the country.”
She added: “And I’m not here to give new labels or names from the president. I’m here to communicate with you about what our focuses are and what his objectives are as president.”
In an April 1 appearance with late-night talk-show host Jimmy Fallon, Mr. Biden praised the governor, who at the time was being widely hailed for his leadership on COVID-19.
“Your governor in New York‘s done one hell of a job. I think he’s the gold standard,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden’s comments came a week after the state Health Department ordered nursing homes in a March 25 directive to accept stable COVID-positive patients as the state sought to avoid overwhelming hospitals.
The directive may have led to about 1,000 additional deaths as the virus swept through senior long-term care facilities, according to a Thursday report by the free-market Empire Center for Public Policy.
As chair of the National Governors Association, Mr. Cuomo paid a Feb. 12 visit to the White House with other state and local leaders to discuss the novel coronavirus response.
Mr. Cuomo “plays an important role in ensuring that we’re coordinating closely and getting assistance out to people of his state and to states across the country,” Ms. Psaki said.
Federal investigators are looking into the Cuomo administration’s data on nursing-home deaths. Last month, New York Attorney General issued a report that found the state underreported the figure by as much as 50%.
The governor was accused last week of a cover-up after a top aide told state Democrats on a private call that the administration initially withheld nursing-home data to avoid the political repercussions.
Mr. Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing, blaming partisan politics, even as the Democratic legislature’s left wing joined Republicans seeking to strip Mr. Cuomo of his emergency pandemic powers. GOP legislators called last week for the formation of an Impeachment Commission.
Democratic Assemblymember Ron Kim accused Mr. Cuomo last week of threatening during a phone call to “destroy” him, which a Cuomo spokesperson denied, prompting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to say that the “bullying is nothing new.”
Ms. Psaki said that there “will be a process. There are investigations. We’ll leave that to others to determine—the appropriate law enforcement authorities—to determine how that path is going to move as we look forward.”
“But we’re going to continue to work with a range of governors including, of course, Gov. Cuomo, because we think the people of New York, the people of states across the country, need assistance not just to get through the pandemic but to get through this difficult economic time,” Ms. Psaki said, “and that’s where our focus remains.”